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Charles Sams poised to become Park Service's first Native director

Charles Sams is on track to become the nation’s first Indigenous leader of the National Park Service after facing lawmakers this week during a committee hearing.

An enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon, Sams told members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that one of his top concerns for the agency is understaffing – the park service has lost about 20% of its employees over the past decade.

"The National Park Service cannot achieve its mission without a well-supported workforce, and I am committed to focusing on the caretakers of this mission," he said in his testimony. "Staffing, housing, and other issues are impacting morale and deserve our active attention."

Meanwhile, popular parks such as Yellowstone and Grand Teton have seen a record-breaking number of visitors this year.

“When you look at that and the amount of people coming into the park, there is definitely a need for additional staff to deal with the overcrowding issue,” he said.

Sams said he would look to improve staff housing and take a zero-tolerance approach to harassment. The agency has been the subject of several sexual and workplace harassment investigations in recent years.

At the end of the hearing, the chair of the committee, Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, said he was confident that senators on both sides of the aisle would vote to confirm Sams.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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